OKLAHOMA CITY – For decades, southeast Oklahoma was the state’s worst kept secret for illegal marijuana growers.
“Our growers were producing some of the strongest in the country,” said Mark Woodward with Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. “At best, it was four, six, eight percent THC levels.”
But, drug agents said the real threat is now coming from states where cannabis is legal.
Today, pot farmers have been replaced by botanists and chemical engineers.
“We try to get them to understand this isn’t the same weed they smoked at Woodstock in ’69 or smoking in ’89 or 2009,” Woodward said. “It’s getting stronger all the time.”
A recent bust in Edmond yielded a total of 4.1 pounds of marijuana, guns and $24,752 in cash.
“Each room had a safe in the closet with different amounts of marijuana in it and THC products,” said Jenny Wagnon with the Edmond Police Department.
Officials said it was merchandise that was imported from a legal Colorado vendor.
“We are seeing more of those things in our busts that we’re making,” Wagnon said. “The way they are marketed and sold are appealing to the young crowd.”
It is a multi-pronged assault.
From undercover raids to highway intercepts, agents are monitoring the “drug pipeline” – Oklahoma’s crossroads for anything suspicious.
Authorities pulled over one vehicle recently and uncovered a mother lode of marijuana in the trunk.
The alleged smuggler hijacked the police cruiser and tried, unsuccessfully, to escape.
According to US Department of Justice figures, there were 1.5 million drug arrests in 2014.
Almost 40 percent of those arrests were for possession of pot.
“Loads coming out of Colorado or California that are 22, 24, 28 percent THC levels,” Woodward told us.
But, the cost of this national obsession, in both money and time, is astonishing.
Each year, enforcing laws on possession costs more than $3.6 billion nationally.
Norma Sapp is an advocate for medical and responsible marijuana use.
“It’s cruel, plus it’s wasting our tax dollars. Plus, it’s hurting families,” she said. “We have seen miracles happen. These kids who’ve left Oklahoma and gone to Colorado, they’ve cured their epilepsy.”
And, she believes Oklahoma law enforcers are wasting valuable resources to fight a losing battle.
“The more dangerous drugs are meth and heroine. People are going crazy. And, alcohol,” Sapp said. “Let’s spend our time worrying about those instead of what we call ‘weed.'”
There are nearly two dozen states that have some form of legalization.
Until Oklahoma joins those ranks, state, county and city police will continue their crusade.
It’s a relentless ‘war on weed.’